Catching up with Girl Talk: Gregg Gillis preps for PINK

Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, is one of the breakout stars of the relatively young music genre known as mashup. His albums consist of long collages of music which might sample any song from the last 50 years. Girl Talk’s live shows are notorious for their rowdiness and great energy. Girl Talk will be bringing some of that energy to the University when he performs at the Fighting Illini Fest tonight. The Daily Illini had a chance to call Girl Talk and ask him about tonight’s performance, future projects and some of the crazier things that have happened at his shows.

Daily Illini: What has the reaction been like to the tour and the album?

Girl Talk: As far as the album, it’s kind of hard to gage. The label that distributes my music is a small boutique label. And it doesn’t get played on the radio or MTV or anything. And with this last album we gave it away for free so there’s no sales figures or anything to go by. The way I judge it is by the number of people that have heard my music. It’s been pretty much four or five years of nonstop touring, and it seems like more and more people have been coming to the shows in bigger and bigger venues so that’s how I like to judge it.

DI: You had a show at the Canopy Club last April. What can fans expect to see at VS Pink that they didn’t see then?

GT: As far as visuals, the shows stay pretty similar. It’s a complex show, so there’s not a lot of room to change it. I’m always kind of switching up the music though. I do a lot of album-based stuff cause I know people come because of the album and they want to hear it, but I also like to try out new mashups and things I haven’t done before. When I plan out a show, I think about what I’ve been playing a lot of lately and try to avoid it. All Day is the newest album so I play a lot of that stuff, but then I might go into a portion from Feed The Animals for a while or even Night Ripper — even though that’s about five years old by now, it’s really cool to see people still responding to it. (Canopy Club) is a smaller venue so it’s more of a club, overheated atmosphere. It’s really different in an outdoor setting with a larger crowd (like Fighting Illini Fest).

DI: At shows, do you create your mashups live or do you create them in advance?

GT: Every sample I use is triggered by hand. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, the two things. It’s like a band playing live — it’s something they worked on and created in advance, but it’s still a live performance. I plan it out. I make mistakes in my shows, I might trigger a sample too early or put two similar samples too close together. It’s never been about 100% improvisation. I plan the shows out so they can be really intricate. I think that one of the reasons people respond to the albums is because of how intricate they are, so I try to bring that to the shows.

DI: When can we expect to hear new material?

GT: As far as an album goes, it’s hard to say cause I haven’t really started thinking about it yet … Eventually, I’ll start thinking that I have enough material, and I’ll sit down and start planning how that might fit into an album.

DI: What is your favorite thing to play live?

GT: I think my favorite thing might be different than the audience’s favorite. My favorite thing is typically new stuff. I play a lot of album stuff cause I know that’s what people want to hear. But when something works live for the first time, that’s what’s most exciting to me.

DI: Your shows have been known to get pretty wild. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?

GT: I’ve seen people having sex on stage. That’s probably the biggest expression of enthusiasm that I’ve seen,

DI: You were an engineer before your music career took off. Did you ever think about going to U of I?

GT: I didn’t really. I think for most people it’s hard to wrap your head around all the colleges you might go to. I went to Case Western, which is in Cleveland. One of the big things for me was that I wanted to be near a city. I really wanted an environment where I could go to a lot of shows, and where I could keep working on my music and finding gigs to play.

DI: What do you want people to get from your music?

GT: I think it’s different between shows and albums. When people come to a show, they want something that’s going to move them physically. I get that, and I appreciate that. There’s material that I know works well and stuff that doesn’t work as well. But when I’m making an album I’m not thinking about people dancing to it. I want it to be fun and upbeat, but I’m not making it with a goal of getting people to dance. I’m thinking about what I could do that would be the most transformative (use of samples) or what is the most musically interesting thing I could do.